You want to build that killer product? It’s not all about jamming the roadmap full of features.
Here’s the scenario: You built yourself a MVP. You produced enough functionality required by your customers for a viable v1.0 release. You start laying out a roadmap for the next few months: a list of all the features that you didn’t get into the initial release. The roadmap grows. You add feature X because your customer asked for it. You add feature Y because your competitor has it. Sound familiar? Here’s where you can do better.
The Product Identity Crisis
The Pareto principle theorizes that 20% of inputs cause 80% of outputs. For products that don’t have a clearly identified target audience, you’ll notice that customers use just a small fraction of the available functionality. It’s possible to create a much more compelling product if you design the vision with a tighter scope — one that does it’s job really well as opposed to a product that attempts to do “everything” averagely.
Great products are ones that have a handful of core features that allow users to get to their end goals quicker. The best products are ones that resonate deeply with their user-base because they make lives easier for people.
Products that add features without a solid understanding of their audience can suffer from an identity crisis, or, what I call “feature bloat” syndrome. I’ve actually seen an inflection point where the productivity of a user starts to decline as they take longer to navigate through a product with severe feature bloat.
New users struggle to pick up the product without significant time investment, old users continue to use their tried and tested methods instead of the new functionality.
Keep it simple so people spend less time working out how to operate the product rather than accomplishing their goals. Simplicity will also lower your complexity cost over time: the cost of maintaining ten features over 5 years is much lower than maintaining one-or-two hundred.
The way to build truly successful products is to soothe user pain.
So, what can you to create a roadmap for a product that users truly love?
1. Understand your target audience, really well.
Sit down with them. Interview them. Find out what motivates them and what infuriates them. You can use the information to make some initial hypotheses on how you might build functionality to target and remove their day-to-day pains. Share your initial designs with them and solicit feedback — recorded interviews using mock UI’s can be really great to understanding how users interpret and interact with your design. It’s important to critically analyze the feedback. Don’t just listen to the things you want to hear: make sure you note down any feedback that might disprove your initial hypothesis on what your users want.
2. Understand “why?”
Customers are great at suggesting solutions but you need to guide them to talk about their problems first.The customer is asking for spreadsheet export? Why? Do they need to visualise the data in charts? Maybe they’d benefit from having basic analytics in-app instead.
3. Drill down.
When you start understanding your users, you’ll realize that their pain can go several levels deep:
“I need spreadsheet export”
“We calculate the numbers and then upload them to our accounting systems.”
What’s the real pain here? Better integration with accounting systems would be much more compelling to users than spreadsheet export. It’s important to understand the motivations of a customer clearly to ensure you are building the right thing. It may take you several attempts at digging for further information before you get to the root pain of the customer.
4. Make a task as simple as possible
Get users to their end goal as quickly as possible. If you really want to capture a loyal customer, find out what their end goal is and make it easy for them to get there. Can you make a 3 step process a 1 step process? People love things that can save them time when performing regular tasks.
5. Forget about feature parity
Just because the competition does it doesn’t make it a good idea. Maybe there is a better way to execute. Understand your customer requirements in depth and use that knowledge to design solutions that make your product clearly superior to your competitors.
6. Track all pains
It’s important to keep track of the pains you uncover. You can use the information to see which pain your users most frequently struggle with and you can therefore prioritize the solution accordingly. These pains form the basis for your solution-based roadmap.
Don’t forget — each pain may have many possible solutions and conversely a single solution may address several pains. The great thing is that by understanding the root pain, you can pick the best solution and know that you are still delighting your end users.